A different tribe of aerial dancers gathered at The Marsh Studio a few weeks ago for a Summer Retreat. I had only met one of the 8 but was relieved their dietary restrictions were reasonable and their appetite for “fun” (yes, they requested having fun!) complemented the summertime spirit of these hot GA days. Neighbor Mary’s pool had never felt so delicious…a welcoming to the travel weary. At dinner it soon became apparent that, unlike most dancers from past Retreats who had found their way down the sandy road to the tidal creek, the majority of these participants had little aspiration to perform. WHAT!? They came here to immerse themselves in this sensual environment, experience what Julie and I had to offer, meet other aerial dancers and take a little cruise into their impulses to move in a different way, JUST FOR THEMSELVES. I had wanted to not only coach performers but to venture into the therapeutic side of aerial dance…moving from an expressive need to connect with self without thought of an audience. Over the next 3 days we moved on balls, rollers, low trapezes, high trapezes, chairs and rolled over each other, with eyes open and eyes closed, to music and to silence. We each created “still-lifes” from objects drawn from a basket. We witnessed and mirrored each other. An intentional playground, in the air and on the ground, emerged. (“I came to this Retreat in hopes of cultivating a more graceful presence on the trapeze and a greater ease of movement. I’m a shy person…introverted…and find it hard to improvise on the trapeze. However, during just the first day I was already finding new ways to move and an ability to flow. I was initially somewhat mortified by some of the exercises Susan led us through but so thankful that I gave them my best effort. I feel less restricted in my movement”). And, at the end of it all, 3 out of 8 presented small solos. The rest of the group, happily serving as audience. So come one, come all. A motley crew is aboard this aerial ship and we are sailing along!
Performance in New York
Arriving in NYC I was transported from the balmy serene life of the tidal creek and marsh where I live to a freezing climate that only Northerners could deem habitable! We were so fortunate to be able to rehearse at Circus Warehouse and trudged, troopers that we are, through snow and wind and ice to get there every day.
The performance went so very well. I found I could “rise to the occasion”, performing (without rehearsing) with a mic strapped to my body. I certainly welcomed being able to deliver my intimate lines without shouting. (“I dance for grandmama’s heartbreaking unquestioning devotion. I dance for the love, she as an orphan never had, but somehow found to give. I dance, in joy and in sorrow, honoring and remembering, their lives and their loving.”)
Afterwards, friends and students, family and performers all gathered for a party at the gorgeous 23rd St. loft of my dear friends, Jan and Dick. We ate, drank, celebrated and took long overdue deep breaths til 3am.)
The next day I went to see my favorite dancer, storyteller and choreographer, Bill T. Jones and was renewed in my appreciation of using aerial dance, spoken word and theater to tell a story, close to our hearts and souls.
So many powerful artists have amazing technique and a multitude of skills at their fingertips, yet they give performances that are not moving or memorable. Why is this the case?
I cannot state this with more conviction and fervor: Everything reads! Whether the audience knows why she is magnetized to the performance or not is because of choices the performer is making, second-to-second, and her inner connection/breath support or lack thereof.
SO, here’s my list:
1. Connect with yourself (Self) through your breath, BEFORE you enter the performance.
2. Adrenaline will be pumping through you, so SLOW WAY DOWN in moments between your power moves.
3. Be conscious of how much you look at the apparatus before you grasp. Grabbing is often reflexive and contracts your presence. When possible, reach for apparatus with foot or hand without looking.
4. Use your hands, arms, head, feet for gesturing. Whatever is not functional for maneuvering around your apparatus is available for expressive movement.
5. Stillness is emotional currency. Spend it sparingly, yet don’t hoard it.
I just performed a new solo last week for an arts association fundraiser, hosted by my husband, Don Carson and me, at The Marsh Studio.
Having focussed on my spoken word/aerial dance solo for “HerSelf Rising”(the performance with “Girls on Trapeze”) I brushed off the auras of my grandmother and great-grandmother and entered the fresh, unexplored terrain of “what now”?
Recently a student, Julie, introduced me to “signing”. She works with teaching pre-schoolers sign language so I asked Julie to show me the gestural phrase for the words “only love endures”. It was lovely. I began going through the sequence my solo, integrating that gestrual signage at points throughout the piece.
Perhaps because I have seen aerial dance and circus performances for so many years I am acutely sensitive to every nano-second of nuance, intention, head and hand gestures, ways to engaging and disengaging with the apparatus, phrasing, transitions and stillness.
As I went through my rehearsals with my iPad camera as my ally, I watched for evidence where there was a disconnect between me and the rope, the bar, myself, the imagined audience.